What would a Homeless Person Say about the movie Fireproof?

Tonight, I decided to go with a couple of friends to the Friday night outreach at Beautiful Feet Ministries.  It was the first time I had been to Beautiful Feet. Regularly, friends from the Baptist student Ministries and I would go to  the local Salvation Army during Thanksgiving morning for a few years in a row; I had also volunteered at the Presbyterian Night Shelter.  Each time, I felt closer to God and even feel led to think about starting my own food kitchen for the hungry and the thirsty.  What is it to the person on the streets if I earn my Doctorate in Philosophy in  Religious Ethics or Theological Studies or Religious Studies and Culture? That person could probably use all four or five of my degrees as toilet paper. Maybe volunteering opportunities are God’s ways of speaking to me, challenging me to protest the American Christian dream where one finds a youth group, or maybe a college group, or a singles group, gets married to one of the group members, works all their life to remain middle-middle class, then grows old and dies. Is that middle class stability all  there is to life? Am I missing something here? During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senators Barack H. Obama and John McCain addressed only issues which mattered to the middle-class.  Their interests, like all politicians, do not represent those of the prisoner, the hungry, the thirsty, but rather the interests of those who are college-educated, pretty nice people who dress nice and smell nice; them that are more likely to have time to go to the polls or can afford transportation to do as such.

So tonight, after we, the humble volunteers, served the persons who had come off the streets for food, the film Fireproof was shown for them.  After all, the poor should listen and only receive what us good Christians have for them. Their worldview really does not matter. [SARCASM, please read the last two phrases as such] At first, I began to feel overwhelmed with guilty for being so critical of Christian movies, especially nice clean films with godly messages featuring Christian actors such as Kirk Cameron. Then, I began to hear grumblings behind me and began to notice that the people we had ministered to with food were leaving the chapel while the movie was playing, talking to themselves.  But one man, in particular behind me, spoke his mind and shouted things that I just wanted to jump up and give him a high five, and affirm his subjectivity as a human being. This man, being a person in need, saw through the propaganda and the biases of Fireproof, and he spoke truth to power on some of things wrong in Christianity.  Throughout the movie, he was decrying the presuppositions of the directors and producers of the film, lauding the lifestyle that Caleb and Catherine Holt (the two characters of interest in the film) lead.  Both have jobs, they own a total of three cars, and lead a pretty privileged lifestyle.  There was a disconnect between the experience of the oppressed and the makers of this film.  This film promoted the worship of an idol: the American Christian dream, staying middle class and stable, becoming self-sufficient individuals with relatively no difference in this dream between Christians and ordinary Americans.  Also, the man behind me kept shouting towards the end of the flick, as Caleb was apologizing to Catherine for not loving her, that Caleb was in a position to apologize, to say he was sorry.  And as I thought about what the man was saying, he was right: Caleb was in a very special position to say he was sorry to his wife again, because he had so much to offer her, like buying his way into her good graces with several gifts, including a $23,000 one–a large sum of money for those who are  starving. Also, as the couple was getting closer together, it was interesting to note the large amount of materialistic tradition that was being promoted.  For example, as their commitment to marital faithfulness became stronger, both Caleb and Catherine felt it necessary to cling to rub their golden marriage rings.  Are wedding rings that necessary? Do we have to depend on them to keep up from cheating on our spouses? I know several students from other countries who do not have wedding rings because it is not part of their culture and they are Christians! What gives? Consumerism. Materialism. Constantinian Christianity–that marital bliss between Christendom and American culture.

Early this week, I was accused by a colleague for being as polemical as ever.  I struggle with guilt over whether I should speak out and criticize the establishment, knowing beforehand I will forever be expressing a minority opinion in a society that bows before the altars of Majoritarian Rule.  Yes, I should be ashamed of myself that I would want to even want to disagree with a prevailing opinion that Fireproof is just an innocent movie about Christ’s love for the Church, with Kirk Cameron’s character obviously representing Christ like Clint Eastwood messianic portrayal in Gran Turino (I am being quite ironic in this statement again; I cannot stand Gran Turino and Eastwood’s character represents more of an imperialist, racist anti-Christ figure more than anything!). There was quite an uproar on my facebook profile when I posted Waneta Dawn’s legitimate critique of Fireproof’s silence on domestic violence.  After watching it again tonight, I affirm her position.  In fact, I would like to add some interesting sequences of events in the film that points towards scary implications from the movie.  First, in the first thirty minutes of the movie, Caleb screams and verbally abuses his wife. One scene shows Caleb conquering his porn addiction by destroying his computer with a bat, as if in that one violent act, all of his problems have disappeared. Later, in the second half of the movie, after getting into an argument with Catherine, about two more times, Caleb goes outside and swings his Louisville Slugger to beat down in the trash cans in front of his neighbors.  While it is supposed to be comic relief, suppose if this violence was directed toward women and children? What does the movie speak to that situation?  Nothing but a narrow interpretation of what it means to be faithful (the irony here is that tonight, I actually heard on of the homeless persons shout that God did not make marriage for life; a chuckle was suppressed by myself), un-mutual submission on the part of the woman, and Christ-like substitutionary submissive obedience until the end?  There is no preaching of the resurrection, only sin and substitutionary atonement, emphasizing Christ’s objective obedience; these doctrines alone without the bodily resurrection count for nothing on the part of the victim. What was needed was hope for victims of domestic violence, and not a silent endorsement of their oppression. The resurrection of Jesus the Messiah gives us hope, with full knowledge that God affirms human life, the human body, and protests against our violent natures. In the end, I have no regrets for criticizing popular Christian films, books, and activities. Actually, I delight in it. I do however know now how seriously the Church is complicit in worshipping the god of Middle Class Stability and for that idol, I will strive to be like Gideon or Elijah, destroying these idols via the tools of deconstruction, writing, reading, listening to the plight of the subaltern, and living in solidarity with them.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

11 thoughts on “What would a Homeless Person Say about the movie Fireproof?

  1. Bryan L

    I’ve never seen this movie and I have no plans to. It looks really corny. But your post brought a few questions to mind. If you were to make this type of movie how would you do it? What would you make different about it? If you took all those things out that you complained about would it even be able to relate to the majority of people who saw it or would it feel even more like they were being preached to (e.g. you’re a bad materialistic Christian who loves mammon more than God and the oppressed). Picking up on that, does it set the story in the common middle class American life because that is the tyoe of life that most people in America (the most likely audience for this movie) live and therfore it’s easiest for them to relate to the main points of the movie without being distracted by the setting? And lastly is it possible to make this type of movie in a way that speaks to everyone including homeless people? I’m all for critique but I just wonder how someone would do it differently.

    Speaking about marriage movies, one fo myt favorites that reinforced my feelings about my marriage and my commitment to it was “The Story of Us”. That movie was pretty raw and honest with no sugar coating. It really affected my wife and I when we saw it. Have you seen it? It was actually recommended (and given) to us by a really conservative Christian couple at my church. Go figure.

    BTW I have a wedding band and whenever I twist it around (sometimes or no reason) it makes me think of my wife and ultimately about marriage? Are you married? Do you ever do that?

    Bryan L

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Bryan,

      You asked a lot of great questions, and I will attempt to address them all.

      I have not seen nor heard of “The Story of Us.” Maybe I will look into it.

      Also, to answer your last question first. No, I am not married, I am single. My point about the rings was not that they are evil, but they are material crutches that some people I have ran into depend on to keep themselves faithful to their spouses. It should not be the rings that remind us to be faithful, but Christ himself, who is God’s faithfulness.

      If I were to make a movie like this, say, to promote Christian marital faithfulness, here is what I would have done differently. First, I must realize that glorifying the Father in Christian art and movies and books if you will, means showing people the what God’s will is, His complete and whole will, and not just partial. My problem is that all Christian movies so far I have seen are set in idealistic norms determined by a culture that promotes middle class stability. I do believe in the call to repentance and salvation; that was perhaps my favorite part of the movie Fireproof. However, perhaps if instead of the violent reactions as comic relief (since the movie provided us with alot of comedy anyhow), to discuss issues of domestic violence instead of letting people criticize it as a blindspot on the part of the directors. The part where Caleb destroys the laptop, remaining an individual to fight his own sexual sin gives while he is on his 40 love dare does not send a good message. A good Christian message would have been Caleb finding a community, an accountability partner to help him with his struggles. That would be one major change among many.

      While it does seem profitable for Christians to serve the needs of a given audience, the middle class, unchristian or christian, it may not be beneficial for the sake of preaching the entire gospel message. These recent Christian movies (not the ones dealing with Bible stories) seem to be lopsidedly telling only for loving God and missing the part about loving others, the Othered, the poor. I think my point of mentioning presidential elections was that the focus of all entertainment seems to be to make the middle class aware of this or that, to please the middle class, to do this for the middle class. My experience last night as well as my reading of the Gospel tells me that this is wrong; we rarely hear the plight of the poor. I do not think it is possible for a movie to speak to everyone but at least it can address some of the concerns or the directors and producers should perhaps consider having a diversity of storylines outside of the mainstream.

      Good questions, Bryan L. I look forward to hearing from you.

      Rod

      Reply
  2. kjlangford

    just a couple thoughts…

    first, I’m not a huge fan of the movie. My stance on art (including filmmaking) is that the act of creating art (as long as it is not something directly opposite of Christ or the Gospel, or tearing it down directly) is an act of worship in and of itself. My favorite Rob Bell (I know, I’m talking about Christian writing, and you don’t like that 🙂 but I think he makes a good point…) quote is “Christian makes a great noun and a horrible adjective. In other words, I should be a Christian making great movies, not someone making mediocre Christian movies. My other stance on art is if you’re going to make art it needs to be good… that’s what makes it effective, and that is worship at its best. So that’s why the film bothers me, because there’s a lot of things about the film (acting, writing, production) that aren’t that good. But I think the intent is good… I think the problem here is more about showing this film to people in this particular situation. You’re right- how can they relate to that? It’s not a movie for them, because it feels preachy from people who are obviously inexplicably blessed with more material wealth than this particular audience… and if they can’t look past that (and I wouldn’t expect them to) then this movie is not doing anything for them.

    But I have a couple issues about your comments…. you complain (basically) about the movie not being “real” enough… and yet the most real, the ugliest parts (ie- Kirk Cameron’s anger and physical issues) you decry. I get your point, but I think the point is to show his anger in a tangible way… that’s something they definitely don’t sugarcoat, and yeah, it is bothersome, but it’s real (mostly, that’s Kirk’s worst acting moment, I feel, but we get the point) . So to take that out would make this film even more… pretty and easy. Also, his physicality with the computer I think shows his commitment to removing his sin, that he knows is KILLING his marriage. It shows his hate for what HE has done. It’s not a lead by example moment but an image that the filmmakers used to strengthen the story. This “tangible-ness” (I know it’s not a word, it’s early) is the same reason for the wedding rings. They’re not becoming obsessed with them, it’s a way that we, the audience, can jump into their thoughts and see that they’re thinking about their spouse. what they do with their ring shows us how they regard their spouse at any given point.

    I also get what you’re saying about the American/American-Christian Dream. And you’re right, in a lot of ways this movie presents that as a lifestyle and assumes everyone has attained this position… but whether you like it or not, it is a predominant lifestyle in the US. It’s not the only one nor is it the MOST predominant one, but this movie was made for middle class Christians or middle-class married people who need Christ… and it’s not a movie about much more than creating an “equally-yoked” marriage and how Christ’s love shows us how to love in marriage and how without Christ we really can’t truly love, spouse or otherwise. So it’s not surprising that a movie made for that audience shows its main characters in that way. In fact, in order to reach them, it makes sense. (i’m not saying it was successful, I’m just saying it makes sense).

    I think the greater issue here is less about this movie in particular ( which definitely has its issues, but you can’t deny that it has positively affected a lot of people… you may not see that, but with lots of friends and parents’ friends that have seen it and renewed their commitment to making their marriage as great as it can be, I have to admit that in spite of its artistic problems, it has been somewhat effective in its mission) and more about (once again, HATE using this word) Christian culture. Who are we speaking to as Christians, are we reaching out beyond our own group? Because this same production company has made other films that reach basically this same audience… which is more of what you’re talking about, I think. The other issue was the poor choice to show this film to reach out to a homeless population. And the last issue is that as Christians who know how great our Creator is, we should be committed making GREAT creative works when we create art (or anything), especially if its outright purpose is to honor Him.

    just my initial thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      KJ,

      I am a big fan of Rob Bell. I do agree with you; i think that in addition that Christians are so desperate for an alternative to “secular” film and art and books, they will absorb and defend anything that Christian music and entertainment industries give out. One of my favorite movies, The American President, had a good line where AJ a White House staffer says that people looking for leadership, when there is none, will drink the sand instead of the water. The same goes for all Christian industries: they all go for mediocrity and then leave Christians to defend mediocre, heartwarming stories. They are touching, but remain captive to ideals that are unrealistic.

      As far as the destroying the computer goes, there are other alternatives. We cannot destroy sin on our own; it is not the computer’s fault that Caleb sins; it is Caleb’s fault. Rather than destroying a desktop, why does not Caleb, rather than relying on his individual efforts, find an accountability partner. Drama and entertainment come at the expense of giving the wrong message.

      You are right about the target audience, but I think my beef is, as I talked about the 2 presidential candidates: middle class concerns are always the topic of discussion in public discourse. That was my problem. Even in Christianity, where we are supposed to be concerned not for ourselves, but for the least of these, the brothers and sisters of Christ-Matthew 25.

      Again, with your last comment, my last comment applies; the problem is that middle class stability is always the norm, always the center of attention, with the concerns and interests of those without home goes on without notice. That is all I am saying.

      Christian art, if there is to be such a thing, should glorify God not by promoting the same agenda over and over, repeating what we hear from politicians and teacher; glorifying God means showing what His will is, and the Father’s will includes loving the poor and those who have been silenced.

      🙂

      And you are right, the movie is a poor choice to reach out to the homeless.

      Reply
  3. mike

    dude this post is insightful; i’m not even high enough on the ladder to be middle class right now, yet i’m blind to some of these issues (though i haven’t seen fireproof) more than i’d like to admit.

    Reply
  4. Waneta Dawn

    Rod,
    You put forth a very interesting angle on Fireproof and Christian movies–the materialism. I didn’t pick up on the 3 cars Caleb and Catherine own. Two would have been enough to show them as middle class.

    As a novelist, I have read that most people are turned off with stories with farming backgrounds and with poor family backgrounds. Books and movies that sell well are usually middle class or upper class, and set in the city. Classism is alive and well in these United States, including in our churches. (In spite of that, I set my novel on a farm. see http://www.wanetadawn.com to learn about my novel “Behind the Hedge,” which focuses on the difficulties a wife has in dealing with the spin her abusive husband puts on “wife submit” and that the church does little to straighten out. It shows the thinking and reasoning of an abuser, and how that effects himself, his wife, his children, and even the extended family)

    Bryan L,
    “If you were to make this type of movie how would you do it? What would you make different about it? If you took all those things out that you complained about would it even be able to relate to the majority of people who saw it or would it feel even more like they were being preached to (e.g. you’re a bad materialistic Christian who loves mammon more than God and the oppressed).”

    First, I’d either take out the statement toward the end that either the husband or the wife could implement the Love Dare, or preface it with “as long as the other person is not abusive…” Their statement as it is, is inappropriate in the context of a movie where the husband is abusive.

    2nd, I’d have SOMEBODY point out either to Catherine or to Caleb that his behavior is abusive. Notice that in the list of things Catherine tells her friends, not once does she tell them that Caleb screamed in her face. And Caleb does not mention it to his friends, either. Caleb could have told his friend “It doesn’t matter how much I yell in her face, she still won’t listen to me!” And the friend could have looked shocked. “You yell in her face? That sounds abusive to me. You better quit that, brother, or next you’ll be hitting her and going to jail.”

    I also would have liked Catherine to protest the destruction of the computer. That, too, was a selish act on Caleb’s part. She could have said, “You ruined our computer! How can I get my email or do research now? Do you expect me to stay at work longer? You owe me a laptop; there is no way I can afford to buy my own.” or words to that effect.

    Rod is also correct, that 2 cars would have been adequate, or even one car.

    The scenes where Caleb beats the garbage can should not have been used for comedy, but rather as something serious. The neighbors should have been considering calling the police because Caleb was behaving irrationally and may be a danger to the whole neighborhood. Or, instead of saying “Caleb” the neighbor could have called out “Are you beating the can instead of your wife?” which would also be comedy, but make a serious and needed point at the same time.

    I also would have wanted something to indicate that Catherine made sure her husband had not only had a heart change, but that it would last. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Caleb spent much more time being a selfish jerk than he did being a loving, considerate husband. If they had a scene where Caleb and Catherine talk to the pastor about having a recommitment/covenent service, they could have had the pastor tell them he would not do such a service for a year, because Caleb needs to prove to Catherine that his change is genuine and for the long haul. In this way, the pastor would be protecting Catherine from making a covenant that would make it harder (by state law) for her to get a divorce if Caleb reverts to his previous behavior.

    This would then lead to another scene where Caleb is once again tempted to revert back to the old behavior, but he calls his pastor, his dad, or his firehouse buddy to help him be faithful and loving. This would be much more realistic and helpful to couples who are trying to rebuild their marriages. If lack of time is an issue, a couple of the firehouse comedy scenes could be deleted. Those scenes do show men pressuring other men to drop the offensive attitudes, but so do the scenes with his dad and Christian firehouse buddy.

    With these relatively small changes, I think Fireproof would have been a much better movie.

    Reply
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  6. Jennifer

    Great insight as usual Rodney. Thank you. Your posts on this subject of middle class captivity truly strike a chord with me because I believe so much of what saps the church in this country of any meaningful spiritual power is just that.

    Reply
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